Rebooting a franchise is a tactic that many video game companies often employ when looking to breathe new life into well-known entities and it’s one that can pay off very well if done right. Successes such as the latest Tomb Raider installment and XCOM: Enemy Unknown are just two prime examples of how to kick-start a series back to life, whilst other efforts such as the ill-conceived 2006 attempt at revolutionising our favourite hedgehog, fail to induce anything but disappointment.
Back in 2010, developers Mercury Steam fortunately created one of the first of the above instances when they produced the goods in the form of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow. Gaining aplomb from long-standing fans and newbies alike, their addition to the established franchise was well received thanks to its fresh ideas and concepts. Having last year released a sequel entitled Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow – Mirrors of Fate for the 3DS and PSN/XBLA, Mercury Steam are back with series conclusion Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2, which sees the developers leaving the franchise in a cloud of rich but infuriating smoke.
Once again taking on the role of Gabriel Belmont, you are now the powerful and almighty Dracula, whose hobbies include drinking blood and being pissed off at the world. Following a brief tutorial and recap of previous game events, LOS2 begins with a weakened Prince of Darkness emerging from his centuries long nap only to find himself in an unfamiliar modern day world. Greeted by old ‘buddy’ Zobek, the familiar voice of Patrick Stewart warns us that Satan is planning a return to earth in a bid to enslave it. Not wanting to be the devils puppet, Zobek offers you a proposition: round up Satan’s acolytes before they can summon the horny red beast and in return receive what you want more than anything else in the world: the Vampire Killer, i.e. the only weapon powerful enough to end your miserable existence. Sounds good to Dracula.
Having received large amounts of praise thanks to the plot of the first LOS, the pressure to create a finale of the same magnitude must have weighed heavily on the developers shoulders and it’s a load that they have dealt with well, at least for the most part. LOS2’s storyline ties in fittingly with the previous games, whilst extras that can found upon your travels such as fallen solider accounts, bring added dimensions of depth to the plot. On paper, the game’s premise (which is fundamentally to seek death) may seem ridiculous but having been through the trials and tribulations that Mr Belmont has, it’s not surprising that he wants to relinquish his immortality and end his life for good. From been tricked into killing his wife to having found out about his son just in time to see him die thanks to his own hands, Gabriel has been through an awful lot in the LOS games and so the idea of him finally being free through death is both believable and well conceived.
There are, however, some inconsistencies with the story, most of which take place towards the conclusion of LOS2. Without over sharing, things such as missing enemies and dramatic turnarounds in certain attitudes will confuse some fans who are more likely to come away from this apparent grand conclusion with more questions than they are answers.
Much like the story, there are also issues with the gameplay, yet these occur throughout the whole experience and not just towards the end. The major problem is the addition of the modern-day settings, the majority of which feel out of place alongside the beautiful castle location. Apart from looking bland and mundane, many of these new backdrops suit neither the gothic nature of the story or the Castlevania theme in general, making it hard to ever really feel comfortable when in this new and contemporary world, especially as the roots of your character lay in an ancient time from centuries ago.
Then there’s the addition of the stealth element to the game, which is both boring and increasingly infuriating. Taking place in these new but defiantly not improved settings, Dracula has the ability to possess both people and rats, a power that you will be forced to use on many occasions whilst in such confined and utterly dull places as the Science Labs. With enemies that can’t be beaten in combat, you will need to either slip by or become your foes to evade them, neither of which are as much fun as they may sound. Tediously aggravating, having to become Solid Vampire Snake on a regular basis is a frustrating task that adds large cracks to the gameplay, which bounces from brilliant to awful throughout. What’s even more annoying about these flaws is how they threaten to undermine all that is good about LOS2, of which there’s much.
Just like the original LOS, the best thing about this game is the combat system, which is both challenging and immensely fun. With reduced emphasis being on quick-time events and more on a free flowing fighting structure, you have a choice of three weapons with which to take down your adversaries: the Shadow Whip, a long whip similar to the Combat Cross, the Void Sword, which steals life from those who meet it and the Chaos Claws, which were first seen in MOF and that have the power to break enemy defences. Much like the Light and Shadow Magic options of the first series title, the Void Sword and Chaos Claws can only be used when each meter has something in them, that something this time being enemy blood.
Since only one can be filled at a time, you must decide carefully which meter to fill, a decision that can often mean life or death within battle. Adding an extra dimension to the combat experience, these weapons can also be upgraded, with a range of combos for each being available to unlock throughout. Using your experience points to gain them, having a combat system that allows for continual progression gives the player even more goals to aim for, which creates another avenue of game satisfaction when these things are unlocked.
There are also a range of other great things about this game including the variety of characters that you’ll meet, from the ghastly Raisa Volova to the strangely cute Chupacabras, the score accompanying the game, which creates a wonderful atmosphere in even the dullest of locations and the sheer length of the game, providing you once again with plenty of value for money. That LOS2 is open-world is also great, as it allows the player to roam where they may and while in some of the aforementioned modern-day settings this isn’t as easy or as fun to do, when in the magnificently looking castle, exploring the surroundings is thoroughly entertaining.
These excursions off the beaten path can also often prove to be fruitful, as there are many useful and non-useful artefacts lying around that are just waiting to be found in this game. The voice acting is also very good, as Robert Carlyle once again provides Gabriel Belmont with a whole new personality, this time one filled with despair and resounding hate for the world around him.
Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2′s a hugely frustrating game, rich in depth and length, but terribly inconsistent. Looking at the amount of things that are right with it, it’s hard to believe that the few flaws in comparison could effect the game in such a big way. However, considering that the main issues LOS2 has make up for half of the gameplay, it’s hard to forget or ignore that they are there. Mercury Steam took a chance when developing their latest and final contribution to the long-standing franchise, but by attempting to be so different from its main predecessor, Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 suffers from the problem of trying to hard. A frustratingly fractured end to the three-part reboot, fans of the series may want to proceed to this title with caution.